Lots of my readers have followed my progress through my struggles deciding to have hip replacement, having it and recovering. This post is for anyone who might be thinking about it and would like to know one person’s experience in somewhat visually graphic detail (photos below)
I’m approaching (tomorrow!) my fifth week post op from anterior hip replacement, also known as “minimally invasive” hip replacement. Minimally invasive hip replacement involves a 4-5 inch incision in the front of the hip vs. the 12 inch incision of the traditional hip replacement in the back of the hip. Minimally invasive hip replacement does not involve cutting any muscles whereas the traditional method does involve cutting apart muscles to insert the prosthesis. I strongly recommend doing as much research as you can on the two operations, talking to more than one surgeon and finding a very skilled doctor with whom you feel comfortable.
So, a brief recap of how it’s gone.
Surgery — you’re unconscious. Not your problem. That very day you will get up and walk around. It will feel like a miracle (because it is). You might go home that day; you might go home the next day (with minimally invasive surgery) or a few days later depending. I went home the day after my surgery.
Week One — The first few days, I was on oxygen, very weak, easily tired and mentally confused. I was on a bunch of pain meds (Tramadol and Percocet) for the first few days but backed off slightly toward the end of the week. I also began suffering excruciating muscle spasms and was prescribed Valium. I was unable to get into my tub/shower, took old fashioned sink baths. With a cane, I walked 1/2 mile or more (if I could) every day in a couple of sessions. I wore the TED hose like a good girl. Food was disgusting (still not my favorite). I had some pain in my groin and in the muscles at the top of my thigh in front. I was visited by home health care who took my vital signs twice a week and did exercises or took a walk with me. Used the walker for the first few days, then switched to the cane except in the bathroom and getting into bed. One bad side-effect from the standpoint of personal misery is thrush from the intense antibiotics given me during the surgery. That has been slow to clear up and doesn’t help the nutrition challenge, even though my doc quickly ordered a fungicide for my mouth. I also had a lot of swelling on my operated leg, from my waist down to my toes.
For two weeks, I gave myself a daily shot in the stomach of a blood thinner called Lovenox.
Also, be ready for constipation. They will give you stool softeners in the hospital but your whole body is numb and it still takes a while..
Sleeping can be a challenge because you will have to sleep on your back with your legs in a fixed position for the first several weeks.
I would never have made it at home without the loving kindness of my friend, Lois, who brought me home to the back of beyond from Colorado Springs and stayed for 10 days. ❤
Week Two — Got off the oxygen, got my staples out, food was still disgusting, walked about the same distance, went to the grocery store with my friend, got in and out of my car, drove a tiny bit, muscle spasms continued at night, but in general pain remained about the same. In terms of morale, I felt like crap because all my online research said it should be over by the second week. Everyone is different. Began taking pain meds only at night. Finished the Lovenox.
My wonderful friends and neighbors saw that I had treats, a ride to the doctor when I needed it, company on shopping trips, help in the yard. ❤
Week Three — Food was still disgusting, walked as much as I could stand (boring unless a friend came along), drove more. Got a shower with help from the occupational therapist. Pain began to diminish but the muscle spasms didn’t. Asked for meds for that and kinda sorta got what I asked for. Still took pain meds at night. Home health care ended at the end of the first month
Week Four — Began out-patent physical therapy which was great and helped with the muscle spasms. Managed to get on and ride my own stationary bike, also great. Muscle spasms began to go away though they can return, but with less intensity. Walk around the house from time to time without my cane. I take pain meds at night, but fewer, and the spasms are rare and not very painful. I was able to stop wearing the surgical stockings.
I’m now experiencing the benefits from having worked out for months (years?) ahead of time and developing good physical strength in my legs and core. My ONE challenge is the new joint and all it needs to learn to work as it should and will. I’m not stuck having to build strength too. This past week my big progress was getting back on my own stationary bicycle — an Airdyne from the 1970s — and riding it. Today I rode four “miles” and it felt very good. Physical therapy is teaching me how to teach my hip how to work like it’s supposed to. It really has NO idea but it seems willing enough to learn. My new hip and I practice at home as well as at the “gym.”
At the moment, the residual down side is that I’m still not really able to concentrate 100% and I’m not up to creative work of any kind. That’s disappointing because I’d hoped to work on the Schneebelungenlied during this convalescent period.
Important Note: If you’re in this situation and know you’ll need a hip replacement, start exercises, seriously, work out. Get a prescription for physical therapy and do it with your whole heart. I walked at least a mile four days a week and rode my stationary bike between 8 and 12 miles three times a week as well as doing crunches and other exercises for my core. I also did six weeks of intensive physical therapy ahead of time. If it hurts, work through the pain. You’re very unlikely to make it worse than it already is. Your joints need strong muscles. Do low impact exercises, swim if you like it (I don’t). Build your stamina, in short, train for your sport which is recovering from major surgery. I’ve heard so many stories now of people who have the surgery and never reap the benefits because they’re physically unfit. I feel so sad for them. 😦
Healing happens quickly. I had some discomfort around the incision in week two, but mostly just stinging and dryness until the staples came out,
Because so many people are having joint surgery now, there’s a racket of (crappy) devices to help in recovery. When you’re still in the hospital someone will teach you about them. Some of them are a total rip off. But I could not have managed without these:
Reacher-grabber. You need two in case you drop one and need to pick it up. You will not be allowed to bend over after your surgery so you will need this.
Sock-putter-onner. I know it’s a crazy looking thing, but I could even put my TED hose on with it.
Walker and cane. Your doc might recommend crutches (mine did not). A long shoe horn is also useful.
A week from this coming Wednesday (6 weeks post op) I will be in Colorado Springs to see my surgeon. His job will be to give me the all clear to move in the various ways that have been forbidden. Honestly, nothing onerous compared to the restrictions with traditional hip replacement. The danger is always that you break a restriction without knowing it.
This was my second hip surgery — I had hip resurfacing in my other hip 11 years ago. I know from my experience that it has the power to give you back your life if you are prepared for it. ❤